Wheaton North senior quarterback Reece Butler possesses speed and a solid arm. He can get quickly outside the pocket and exploit defenses with his running ability. He can also roll out and throw pinpoint passes from short to medium ranges.
Butler doesn’t have a cannon for an arm. He’s isn’t Wheaton North’s last quarterback Taylor Graham, who had size and strength and is now at Ohio State. At 5-10, Butler can’t sit in the pocket and launch passes all over the field.
What Butler is able to do works, and he’s figured that out. He knows what he has, and he knows what he doesn’t have, and that’s how he plays quarterback.
Against Lincoln-Way East last week, Butler, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, used his strengths to perfection. He completed 25 of 32 passes for a career-high 315 yards and four touchdowns and led the undefeated Falcons to a 33-20 upset win over the Griffins.
“I don’t try to do what I can’t do,” Butler said. “I don’t have the arm of Taylor. I don’t have the luxury of dropping back and making a lot of the throws Taylor made. It’s a matter of me getting out of the pocket and making things happen
“I say from last year the game has slowed down a little bit. As you get older and get more experience, you have more games under your belt, and you know what kind of throws you can make and what kind of throws you can’t make.”
A year ago, Butler was thrown in the fire of being Wheaton North’s starting quarterback. No one, including Butler, ever expected for him to play more than a few snaps all season with Graham as the quarterback. But when Graham’s season was cut short due to a knee injury, Butler found himself behind center.
From Week 7 when Butler officially took over for Graham as a starter, the Falcons went on a ride that won’t be forgotten anytime soon by Wheaton North.
In his first game, the Falcons lost to Hinsdale Central 26-23 and dropped to 3-4 overall. Their playoff hopes looked slim. A game later, Butler delivered a 23-yard touchdown pass with 18.2 seconds left to lift Wheaton North to a 10-3 over Naperville North. In the season’s final week, Wheaton North slipped into the playoffs with a 20-19 overtime win over Glenbard East.
Once in the playoffs, Butler and his teammates played as if they had nothing to lose. Butler threw two touchdown passes to upset Rockford Boylan in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs. Against Prospect, he threw for two more and ran for another to pull off another unlikely win. The Falcons were finally knocked off in the quarterfinals.
“At the time, I wasn’t really thinking,” said Butler, who Graham mentored throughout the season. “I was thinking about the next step, the next practice, the next game. Looking back, it was l a lot of fun. I didn’t see myself playing in the playoffs earlier in the year. I saw myself as a backup.”
Now, Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski has seen Butler grow as a player thanks to those playoff experiences. Through two games, he’s thrown for six touchdowns and ran for two, and Wheaton North has entered the rankings.
“I just think he’s more confident,” Wardynski said. “Last year, he felt a lot of pressure trying to fill in for Taylor Graham, who was a Big Ten recruit. He now feels like this is his team. He’s a senior. Guys look to him as a leader and not a fill-in guy.
"He’s always been kind of level-headed, a cool character. He doesn’t seem to get rattled too much. I think he’s enjoying it. That’s what it’s about. You’re supposed to be going out there and having fun.”